Celebrating with Palms

Sermon for Palm Sunday based on John 12:12-19

Dear people celebrating with palms: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Palm trees in the middle of a barren desert wasteland are a sure relief for dry eyes and a parched tongue. Palm trees indicate an oasis; a place with water to sustain life. They indicate food since many of them provide edible fruit. They indicate rest, shelter, and shade in a barren and hostile place.

The Israelites found such water and food, rest and shelter camped at an oasis with twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees after God saved them from Egypt (Ex. 15:27). As a yearly reminder of God bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which included rejoicing and celebration with palm leaves (Lev. 23:33-44). They rested in the Promised Land from their years of slavery and hardship, and celebrated in the lush, fertile land of Canaan, an oasis from the wanderings in the wilderness.

Once settled in the Promised Land, God gave rest, refreshment, and safety to His people in the Temple. It was thus fitting that the decorations of the Temple included engraved palm trees around all the walls of the inner and outer rooms, on the doors of the inner sanctuary, and on the leaves of the doors at the entrance of the nave (I Kings 6:29-35). The Temple was the place where God refreshed His people with forgiveness, gave them rest from work, and safety from sin, death, and the devil.

How fitting then, that when Jesus entered Jerusalem to be the sacrifice for our sin, He was greeted with palm branches and celebration. Jesus is our rest, refreshment, and safety. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to fulfil what God prefigured and foreshadowed by bringing His people out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus entered Jerusalem to save all of us from the slavery of sin, our true enemy.

If it was fitting for the Temple to be decorated with palm trees as a sign of rest, refreshment, and safety, how much more fitting it is that Jesus would be greeted with palm branches since He is the Temple made without hands. If the people of Israel had reason to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with palm branches every year, we have more reason to celebrate Palm Sunday with palm branches every year.

In fact, we are in good company when we celebrate with palm branches. The book of Revelation tells us that the saints enrolled in heaven praise God with palm branches in their hands (7:9). Those who have come out of the Great Tribulation and have been washed by the blood of the Lamb celebrate with palms because Jesus entered Jerusalem to be save us.

“Save us!” That’s what Hosanna means. It is a prayer to God that He save us. It is thus a prayer to Jesus that He be our rest, refreshment, and safety, our oasis in this world of sin.

Jesus is our rest. He is our rest because we can rest from our attempts to save ourselves by trying to earn God’s favour. We can rest in Jesus because He has completed the work of saving us. And He is our eternal rest as He will take us from this life of toil and sorrow to His eternal celebration feast which has no end.

Jesus is our refreshment. He is our refreshment because He has given us new life. He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink which takes the heavy burden of our sins from us. He nourishes us with forgiveness so that we have strength for the days to come.

Jesus is our safety. He is our safety from sin, death, and the devil. Sin cannot harm us because we have been forgiven. Death cannot harm us because Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead, promising us that we also will rise from the dead. The devil cannot harm us because Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated him and all he can do is thrash around helplessly as Jesus has crushed his head.

It is most fitting that we sing “Hosanna” in the Sanctus as part of our communion liturgy. We pray to Christ who comes to us in His body and blood that He would save us. And He does. He gives us rest, refreshment, and safety by giving us forgiveness in His body and blood. He saves us from sin, death, and the devil through this most sacred of meals. He joins us in communion with Himself, with each other, and with the saints already enrolled in heaven.

We are in a barren and hostile place. We are in a barren desert wasteland that is this world of sin and death. Jesus has given us an oasis with palms here in His church, where He gives us rest, refreshment, and safety.

Thus, we take up palm branches in celebration. We celebrate with God’s people of old who were saved from slavery. We celebrate with God’s people who were refreshed in the Temple and given rest and safety. We celebrate with the saints in heaven who are no longer in the Great Tribulation in which we still find ourselves.

We celebrate with palms this wonderful day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem with one purpose – to suffer and die for us all. He never sinned, but He suffered the punishment for all the sins of the world, so that we who have sinned will live with Him forever in the joys of Paradise.

Hosanna! Save us we pray! Lord Jesus, be our rest, refreshment, and safety until You take us to rejoice with all the saints in heaven who praise you with palm branches in their hands. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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